State Senate passes transportation budget proposal

OLYMPIA — The Washington state Senate unanimously passed an $8.7 billion transportation budget proposal on Friday that would allocate money for maintenance, infrastructure and existing large-scale projects such as the floating bridge across Lake Washington and replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel.

Calling it a “bare-bones” budget, said Senate Transportation Committee co-chairwoman Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, said she hopes it will be augmented by a transportation revenue package, a version of which is moving through the House.

“This keeps us moving forward,” Eide said.

The plan projects almost $900 million for the Alaskan Way project over the next two years — a number that drops by more than half over the following two years as the project is expected to wind down The budget measure also includes roughly $82 million for design work on the contentious Interstate 5 bridge replacement project over the Columbia River. Most of that money would be withheld until the Coast Guard decides whether to issue a key permit. The Coast Guard’s decision is expected in September.

“We’ve lived within our revenue,” said Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima. “We’ve looked at how do we address as best we can with the revenues that we have our maintenance and preservation problems.”

In addition to the budget proposal, the Senate unanimously passed a measure to do away with the requirement that license plates be replaced every seven years. Instead, new plates would be required when a car is sold, and would otherwise be good for the life of the vehicle. That measure is projected to save $35 million over two years.

The vote was closer — 31-16 — on a measure to dramatically raise a set of fees, mostly for commercial drivers. Among the fee increases, an instruction permit for commercial drivers would go from $10 to $40 and the classified skills exam fee would climb from $100 to $250. In addition, the bill would create a new studded tire fee of $15. The fee hikes would take effect in January and are projected to raise $30 million over two years.

The measures head next to the House, which passed its own transportation budget plan earlier this month.

Separately, a transportation revenue package that would augment the budget was heard by a House panel Friday. That plan includes funding for a range of big-ticket projects across the state, including improvements to Interstate 405, the North Spokane Corridor, and connecting State Route 167 and State Route 509 to Interstate 5.

It also includes more construction funds for the Columbia River Crossing project, which has emerged as one of the most contentious issues of the legislative session. Proponents say the money is necessary to keep up to $1.2 billion in federal funds toward the project on track. Opponents say the bridge as currently conceived is too low, and that it should not include light rail.

Much of the funding for the proposed revenue package would come from a 10-cent hike in the per-gallon gas tax.

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